On the 359th day of the year – every year, it seems (except for the Leapy variety) – falls a very special day. But Christmas is not just a day, it’s an entire holiday period – seemingly running from mid-November to early-January – although anyone with an ounce of self-respect will at most celebrate for two weeks (or as long as you’re off work).
There are many festive associations with this time of year: mince pies, reindeer, carols… plus Christmas jumpers, drinking excessively and family arguments. But an annual tradition for almost all is to watch their favourite Christmas films. We don’t have time for all of them though, so which is the [quint]essential film to watch over Christmas this year?
Our writers have some suggestions with typically persuasive arguments lined up, so let’s find out.
Gremlins isn’t a traditional Christmas movie and that’s why it works. Like Die Hard, Gremlins uses the festive period as a setting, but refuses to engage with the standard Christmas movie tropes – in a lot of ways, it’s almost the anti-Christmas movie.
For a fairly silly, family-friendly horror movie, Gremlins is surprisingly dark – the kitchen massacre sticks in the memory, as does Phoebe Cates’ horrifying Christmas flashback, which is seriously grim stuff. The movie is infamous in film history for bringing in the PG-13 rating (or 15 the UK), alongside Spielberg’s Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and it’s nice to have a Christmas movie not bogged down in sentimentality.
The setting adds to the fairytale vibe of the film, and the snow and coloured lights generate a nice atmosphere; there’s also a great contrast between what’s happening on screen and the Christmas theme. Joe Dante’s movie is typical of Spielberg-influenced 80s monster movies – small town threatened by alien menace – but it’s directed with great energy, has a frantic score, and is a lot of fun to watch.
An iconic and nostalgic movie, and one most people forget is Christmas related; if you loved it as a child, watch it this December and see how well it holds up.
People sometimes tell me that Die Hard isn’t really a Christmas film. Those people are wrong.
Die Hard tells a classic Christmas story via the medium of an action film; it is, at its core, a film about a man who must fight the odds just to ensure that he gets to see his kids on Christmas Day. It’s a film about a marriage on the rocks and a man who doesn’t realise just how much he has to offer until the shit starts hitting the fan. For all intents and purposes it’s like It’s a Wonderful Life‘s gun-toting cousin, complete with a festive soundtrack and a heap of snow.
Still not convinced? What about the villain then; Hans Gruber is like a modern American Scrooge, albeit one who never receives redemption. He’s suave, sophisticated and driven by greed, and he’s more than happy to ruin Christmas in the pursuit of financial gain. Sounds familiar right..?
Ultimately though, Die Hard is a film brimming with humour, charm and morality. Sure, it might involve Bruce Willis taking on a bunch of terrorists with little more than a machine gun (ho ho ho) and a sarky personality but all of the underlying themes really do just scream “Christmas!” at you.
For me Christmas and this Muppet take on the Dickens classic go hand-in-hand, as from a young age it would be a family tradition to watch The Muppet Christmas Carol with my sisters and my parents. Admittedly my dad often begrudged us watching it as early as we did some years, with there being an often spoken-about occasion where we felt Christmassy in July.
It was a film that even as a teenager I loved to watch with my family while eating Christmas chocolate, cake and assorted sweets being suckered in by the sweet and bizarre characters that are the Muppets.
For a Muppets film it is actually quite a good adaption of the source material while still finding room for all of the traditional Muppet characters and some cute songs. Some well realised effects create the ghosts of Christmas past (here a young girl with a slightly porcelain doll effect), present and the terrifying spectre of the future. It also includes includes some heavily quotable dialogue such as the great exchange shown in the clip below.
Watching it now slightly more grown up, it still makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside to see Michael Caine’s Scrooge redeemed in the end. To me this will always be the ultimate Christmas film.
I can’t possibly let Jon Favreau’s Elf – AKA a Channel 4 / Film 4 tradition (marking the official start of Christmas-time over the past few years) – go unnoticed and undefended here.
It gives us an eclectic cast: the leading duo Will Ferrell and Zooey Deschanel (both of whom put their ability to irritate aside for a welcome change) with James Caan in support (usually found in similarly cheery films like The Godfather and Misery). Yet perhaps the most significant reason to revisit Elf from a casting point of view is that Peter Dinklage, now best known as the masterful Tyrion Lannister in Game of Thrones, drops by.
Elf is not only really funny through, but it’s sweet and includes an appropriately cheesy/heartwarming ending. It also has a fantastically festive soundtrack including classics like Pennies From Heaven, Baby It’s Cold Outside and Jingle Bell Rock, and John Debney’s accompanying score is wonderful (particularly the soaring highlight, Buddy’s Journey, as he sets out into the big wide world).
It’s given us many quotable one-liners, features a Ferrell and Deschanel duet, has a father-son relationship that needs salvaging, and gives us the fish-out-of-water fun of an elf in new surroundings. Fantasy, comedy and drama rolled into one: what more could you want from a Christmas cracker of a film?
I have chosen Love Actually because it focuses on what Christmas is all about in a secular society: family, friends and, above all, love. Christmas should be shared with your nearest and dearest, those closest to your heart.
The film is written and directed by Richard Curtis and features the best of British acting talent, including Hugh Grant, Liam Neeson, Colin Firth, Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Keira Knightley, Martine McCutcheon, Bill Nighy, and Rowan Atkinson playing a jewellery salesman in a small cameo who almost steals the show!
Love Actually focuses on a group of people in the run-up to Christmas, living and working in London, whose lives are intertwined in many ways. It dissects a range of love stories, from first-love, to budding relationships, troubled marriages, the love between parents and children, the love between siblings, brotherly love, heartbreak and unrequited love.
It covers love in all its variety and complexity. The film tugs on the heartstrings throughout and has an uplifting ending stressing the importance of love in people’s daily lives.
A personal highlight for me is Hugh Grant, playing the British Prime Minister, dancing to Jump for my Love in 10 Downing Street. Move over Tom Cruise and Risky Business!
Both The Muppet Christmas Carol (Channel 4, 4.35pm) and Love Actually (ITV1, 10.45pm) play on Christmas day this year – you’re welcome!